Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The First Man To Wear A Sanitary Napkin

Necessity isn’t the only mother that Invention has. A far more popular mother is the one that urges the research and development departments of thousands of corporate firms. This mother is better known as profit or the pursuit of higher revenues. Even in cases where Necessity has given birth to Invention, there have been so many instances of the offspring being adopted by this other mother, she who thinks nothing of exploiting her children for lucre.

Recently I came to know of the third mother of Invention. The one barely anyone has heard of. Her name is Selfless Disinterest.

I had read of Arunachalam Muruganantham a few months ago in an online newspaper, but the man’s inspiring story became more real when I saw his 14.59-minute video HERE. Unsophisticated, with halting English, but superb wit, he has nevertheless earned himself the right to share his inspiring story as a visiting professor and guest lecturer at many business schools.



His claim to fame: the manufacture of a low-cost sanitary napkin.

We women, who have the money to walk up to a medical store and whisper of our desire to be carefree and stay that way, know little of the horrors suffered by 95% of women who, if they had the money, would spend it on food and other necessities. Spending it on buying a sanitary napkin seems like a waste of money when so many other needs are crying out loud. These women end up using rags, leaves of plants, husk, sawdust, even ash, to stem the monthly flow of blood.

I cannot even begin to imagine the physical distress and pain that they invite upon themselves, not to mention the indignity of having to struggle, with shame, to cope with a perfectly natural circumstance. The women also expose themselves to the risk of pelvic diseases, resulting from contamination.

When Arunachalam caught sight of his young wife hiding some rags, perhaps already used, from her husband, he asked her why she didn’t wear a sanitary napkin. He was told that it would upset the monthly budget.

So Arunachalam used precious money from that shaky budget to buy a packet of sanitary napkins. The bewildered, bemused and patronizingly pitiful expressions on the faces in the store did nothing to suppress his zeal. He was a man on a mission.

Bringing home the packet, Arunachalam dissected it into the parts that made up the sum. Surely there was some high technology at work here, he told himself. As he says in the video, he thought it might contain some hidden chip or integrated circuit that would justify the prohibitive cost. But all he found was cotton of different textures, all wrapped up in a rectangular package and glued together.

Arunachalam went to a textile mill nearby and bought cotton, which he fashioned into a rudimentary sanitary napkin. But here he faced an unexpected hurdle. Being an average male, he had no idea about monthly cycles, and was disappointed to know that he would have to wait for his wife to get her periods before she could test them. Her judgment, when she tried it, was Unsatisfactory.

Back to the drawing board Arunachalam went. He made some more. Again the wait. He tried to enroll his sisters in the testing, and was crushed to know that his enthusiasm was not shared by others. Some medical college students, asked to assist in the testing, were not comfortable with his proposition either.

And then in the interests of a cause that had little to do with his sex, let alone himself, Arunachalam tested it himself. He wore the sanitary napkin, filled a bottle with animal blood and led a connecting tube to the napkin, such that as he walked, the blood, a little at a time, would get deposited on the sanitary napkin. In the video, he laughs, calling his efforts the consequence of the Trial and Error method.

Driven on by a goal that nobody else could even begin to understand, Arunachalam invented a machine that would manufacture the low-cost napkins. His efforts were not without drastic consequences. His wife served him a divorce notice. His mother left him. He was thrown out of his village.

Today this winner of the President’s award has given 706 such machines to 23 Indian states, resulting in direct employment for 7000 rural women. And most importantly allowing 3.5 million women to embrace low-cost yet effective personal hygiene during their periods.




Anshu Gupta of Goonj is doing something similar. Mobilising people everywhere to donate items of clothing that they no longer need, Gupta’s team repurposes them into sanitary napkins for rural women.




The lasting benefits of these low-cost sanitary napkins are things that only a woman could ever fully appreciate, given the shame, the lack of awareness and the silence associated around the subject of menstruation.

The efforts of Arunachalam and Anshu remind me of an old Tamilian verse whose loose English translation I read decades ago. It says:

This world lives because
Some men do not eat alone,
not even when they get
the sweet ambrosia of the gods;

there's no faintness in their hearts
and they do not strive
for themselves.

Because such men are,
this world is.





This entry is in response to a contest organised by Indiblogger in association with Franklin Templeton Investments.
Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012.







Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Perfect Road Trip (Day 21: Ultimate Blog Challenge)

Until I got married, I wasn’t a great one for road trips. I was one of those who believed in the romance of train travel. Of packing puris, sukha batata bhaji and vegetable pulao into steel dabbas (that was pre-Tupperware era). Of the elders in the family sharing stories about children, the standard of living in the face of rising prices and of course of the incompetence of the government with total strangers who, for the space of that one night spent in a moving train, became as close as family.

When the Husband and I started dating, I realised that he had a passion for Goa. (I am Goan, of course, but here I am talking about travelling to the state of Goa, an all-time favourite on his quick getaway list). I suspect that one of the reasons why Dil Chahta Hai is one of his favourite films is because the three leading men played by Aamir Khan, Akshay Khanna and Saif Ali Khan choose Goa as a destination for a road trip and a getaway.

Insisting on us travelling to Goa at every opportunity that we had for a holiday, the Husband added the proviso that, in order to heighten the experience and the joy of the travel, we should travel by road. My attempts to espouse the beauty of travelling by the Konkan Railway failed to make an impression. Not for him the hassle of buying a ticket two (or is it three?) months in advance and then waiting for leave to be sanctioned, only to end up cancelling the tickets at the last minute and leaving the Great Indian Railways richer for it. We would go to Goa, said the Husband, and we would take our trusted chariot, read, Maruti Swift, along.

As things turned out, I found myself expecting my first child, known to readers of my blog as La Niña, soon after marriage. Three years later, El Niño arrived on the scene. So holidaying was put on the back burner.

It was only after El Niño turned two in the first quarter of this calendar year that the Husband and I decided it was time to initiate the children into the joys of travelling. And what better place to start with than Goa?

We made exhaustive plans. Since we were travelling with kids, travelling light was out of the question. But that was okay. The carrier atop the roof could be rigged to accommodate all our baggage. The stuff we needed quickly could be stashed away in the boot.

We decided to take the National Highway No 17, the approximately 600-km sometimes concrete, sometimes dirt road (thanks to the monsoon and infrequent repair work) that would take us to Goa, the land of my forefathers and one of his dream destinations.

The perfect road trip, for us, would mean one in which the Husband would do the driving. Partly because he loves to drive, and partly because with him in the driver’s seat, I am more at ease. No hired driver would see the cargo in the back seat as precious the way he would.

The Husband would drive safely, no overtaking on the numerous curves that punctuate the road along the Western Ghats, but still at a good speed, with the intention of reaching Goa before it got dark. But we would still take time to stop once in a while and let the kids stretch their legs or even empty their bladders. Or even stop by at a highway restaurant and grab a bite to eat. Of course, we never travel without biscuits, fruits and drinking water for the kids.

I would be on the back seat, holding the two kids together as they sometimes slept through the journey, or at other times, knelt on the back seat waving out to strangers or even admiring the lush countryside that is the Konkan region.

The windows would be wide open. Why switch on the airconditioner when God filled the hillsides with fresh air? As city-bred people who breathe polluted air all the year round, we should be drinking in the fresh air of the countryside in big, gluttonous gulps. And that is exactly what we would do. Of course, our trusted Ambipur would be in place, in case any malodours sought to creep up on us.


The children would be thoroughly entertained by the spectacle of the natural beauty unfolding around them. There is something beautiful about watching the trees whiz past. La Niña and I would get excited over every Gulmohar tree or coconut tree we saw. And I mean that. Excitement over every single one of them.

El Niño would perk up at the sight of a cat, a dog, a cow or a monkey along the way. I secretly hope no other members of the animal kingdom show up. This is all the excitement I can take.

We would also be armed with music. The Husband likes to drive while listening to music. So he has already saved the family's favourites on two 8 GB pendrives. But beyond that, his eardrums will also be treated to some awesome live music, courtesy the three untrained but still jolly good singers on the back seat.

Above all, between holding the kids tight, and answering their never-ending and incessant questions, I would also find time to pray. That God may keep us safe, that the Husband may drive safely as may others that would be out on the road. For no road trip can be perfect if the safety of the passengers is at risk. 


And when we are travelling with our kids, I would appreciate it if any adventure, if at all it came along, came in small, manageable doses that are U-rated.

That is my idea of a perfect trip.



(This post has been written for The Perfect Road Trip contest on Indiblogger, in association with Ambipur.)






Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ten grains of rice at a time (Day 20: Ultimate Blog Challenge)

I have never been a gaming enthusiast. Neither on the computer nor on the cell phone. Jumping into fantasy lands to rescue lost princesses or retrieve treasure or oversee the quarrels of hot-tempered birds is not my thing. But there is one solitary online game that I am partial to.

Hosted on the website, www.freerice.com, this game, set up in October 2007, supports the United Nations Food Programme. The website requires you to answer a series of questions. Every right answer nets you 10 grains of rice. For every wrong answer, you get nothing.

You can choose your subject. Questions are asked on English (vocabulary and grammar), Chemistry (Symbols), Geography (world landmarks, world capitals, flags of the world, identifying countries on the world map), Science (anatomy), Math (multiplication tables, basic math), Humanities (famous paintings, literature, world hunger, famous quotations), Language Learning (German, Spanish, French, Italian and Latin) and Test Preparation for SAT.

If you were born smart and you’re a whiz at absorbing and retaining knowledge, this is the place for you. You can show off all you like. There is even an FB link to let your friends know about your achievements.

On the other hand, if you’re not the one described in the above paragraph, even better. You can go about relearning all that you forgot the day after the exams. The Multiple Choice format makes it easy on you and there are no penalties for answering a question incorrectly.

As your pile of rice increases, so does your sense of achievement. This sense of satisfaction comes of knowing that you are answering right and that of knowing that your intelligence, knowledge or even your skill at making the right guesses is doing some good to needy persons far away.

Each question, as it loads, brings you face to face with a new sponsor banner just beneath the question. Unlike, say YouTube, it doesn’t require you to sit through the ad before getting a shot at answering the question. Also, every right answer gets you a harder question. Every wrong answer, an easier question. If only all exams worked this way!

Considering that the prices of almost anything in the world are on the up and up, you need have no fear about the value of your pile diminishing in the face of rising inflation. Any increase in the cost of the rice does not affect the total amount you have earned. Since players earn grains of rice, and not units of any currency, the amount that you have earned remains the same.

Incidentally, there are 48 grains of rice in a gram, so the site informs us. It goes on to say that in countries where rice is a staple part of the diet, the World Food Programme provides on average, about 400 gm or rice per person per day. That covers both meals, and of course, the meal also includes other ingredients to help a person get a minimum of 2100 kilocalories per day.

The background of the site shows paddy fields with the rice swaying in the wind. The whole site is in varied shades of green, making the whole appear rather soothing to the eye. Make haste and check out the site for yourself, and while you’re at it, increase your brain power and take urgent steps toward solving the hunger problem of the world -- ten grains of rice at a time.






Friday, July 19, 2013

Book Review: COMPASS BOX KILLER (Day 19: Ultimate Blog Challenge)

Title: Compass Box Killer
Author: Piyush Jha
Publisher: Rupa Publications
Pages: 234




Compass Box Killer by Piyush Jha, the first of the Inspector Virkar Crime Thrillers and part of the Mumbaistan series, is a slickly written story that is marked with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing, making for an engaging read.

In typical Hindi potboiler fashion, Jha introduces his leading man, Inspector Virkar, as a swashbuckling cop, who is not afraid to toss the rule book out of the window, when required, in order to get results.

Compass Box Killer is about a killer, named with the typical flair that the television news media displays for labeling police cases and pigeonholing other people’s tragedies.

In a remarkable deviation from other works of its kind, Jha lets you into the novel from the murderer’s side of the story. Or rather from the viewpoint of the soon-to-be murderer.

It all starts with the murder of Senior Inspector Tukaram Akurle. Virkar, who is assigned the case, finds an old geometry instrument box, colloquially known among students in india as a compass box. The box reveals a chit of paper with a message written by the killer, telling Virkar that if he wants to know the identity of the next victim, he must find him first.

Virkar manages to find the room that the killer shares with many others, but his quarry has flown the coop. A search of the killer’s few belongings reveals another compass box, with a chit naming the next victim. 

Virkar’s attempts to provide special protection to the four Dr Prabhat Bhandaris found is rejected by his seniors, enabling the killer to strike Dr Bhandari successfully. Strangely, as the bodies pile up, the murderer always informs Virkar about the identity of his next victim. Is it over-confidence that causes the killer to keep Virkar informed? Or something else?

Along the way, Raashi Hunerwal, ambitious crime reporter from CrimeNews channel, joins forces with Virkar, seemingly anxious to make amends for having mocked him on her TV programme earlier.

As Virkar begins to join the dots, connecting the murder victims, in an investigation that takes him from Mumbai to Khandala and Belgaum in a high-adrenaline drama, that this killer is no ordinary serial killer. And the murders are the tip of a secret cover-up.

Jha is a master of realistic description. His description of the puke-ridden death of Senior Inspector Akurle was enough to cause my stomach to churn. I had to shut the book at this point, and it was some time before I could take it up again, and that too by skimming the paragraph and quickly jumping to the next.

At first, Raashi seems a typical specimen of her ilk, stopping at nothing in her bid to get Breaking News, and even ridiculing Virkar for his refusal to talk to her. But his attempts to save the life of NGO activist and lawyer Nigel Colasco, change her mind and she becomes sympathetic towards him. Or so it seems.

The best part of Compass Box Killer is the delineation of the character of Virkar. The inspector is very real, not some romanticized version of a hero. He belches, is uncomfortable with cutlery and, in Jha’s characterisation, stays true to his roots. What makes him extremely interesting and fascinating as a character is the fact that he once considered being a part of a petty gang himself, before better sense prevailed.

I must make a special note of the very colourful proverbs and phrases that Virkar uses to cleverly sum up his situation. A few like Na jaal, na jhinga, par dariya mein khas-khas, I had not even heard of. Jha has effortlessly peppered his narrative with local turns of phrases that add a unique flavor and pungency to Compass Box Killer. They make the dialogue crackle with life. You can actually imagine the Hindi lines that the actors will speak once this book is translated to the big screen.

The only thing that plays spoilsport to this otherwise great desi thriller is the poor editing and proofing. There are a number of errors scattered through the pages that a careful editor could have avoided. Even the names of the characters have suffered in one or two places. Akurle becomes Akrule in one place, and Virkar loses the first 'r' in his name. Sheer carelessness!

In another instance, Bhoir, the morgue attendant at the morgue in Khandala, says, “Mala kahitari mahiti nai (I don’t know something)," when he should have said “Mala kahich mahiti nahi (I don’t know anything).”

These errors aside, Jha also does a fine job of representing the news media in the shape of the attractive Raashi Hunerwal. While the media has the potential to be a watchdog, more often than not, it is to be found essaying the role of a mangy stray that won’t stop annoying and growling at those around it.

In spite of showing the killer’s actions in real time, Jha never loses his hold on the reader’s interest. Inspector Virkar and Nandu, the killer, play a game of cat and mouse. The stakes are high, and it seems that where Virkar is dogged and wily, Nandu is ruthless.

Dimaag ka dahi means the curdling of the brains and poor Virkar faces a lot of that, from all his antagonists in the story. Jha’s writing is pithy and gritty. Despite knowing the identity of the killer, we are drawn along by the desire to learn about the motivation for his blood thirst.


I look forward to the next in the Mumbaistan series.




The book was received as part of Reviewers Programme on http://thetalespensieve.com/reviewers-sign-up/">The Tales Pensieve
.










Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Earth Provides Enough (Day 18: Ultimate Blog Challenge)

I am not much of a traveler. In fact, I call myself an armchair traveler or a mouse traveler. I either travel vicariously through TV programmes or through the Internet.

That is not to say that I never get out of my little cocoon. I do, but it is work that gets me out, not a vacation.

It was one such trip that I would like to describe here. In October 2004, a colleague and I went for a trip to Raigad district in Maharashtra, very close to Mumbai, to see the work being done by Rural Communes (RC), a non-governmental organization, there. This organization, propelled onward by one man’s determination to revoke the environmental disaster that afflicted the Raigad district of Maharashtra, and sustained by financial support from the Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, did commendable work there.

Before that man, Muneer Alavi, arrived on the scene, Raigad suffered from an ironical ailment. The region has always been blessed with more than sufficient rainfall. But all the water flowed down the hillsides and drained into the sea. Come summer, the locals had to choose from three options.

· Buy water from a tanker at an exorbitant rate.

· Walk miles to fetch water.

· Move temporarily to Mumbai once the rice crop was harvested or at the end of the monsoon.

The culprit for this sad state was the indiscriminate felling of trees to procure wood for construction, firewood and charcoal. Within a month of the end of the monsoon, the rivers would run dry. The ecosystem was so off-kilter that droughts in the summer and excessive rains in the monsoon had become the new norm. Surveying the people, RC found that they survived on a diet of rice, fish and crabs. They were anaemic and malnourished.

RC began a comprehensive watershed development programme in 6 villages and 24 hamlets. It involved soil and water conservation measures such as de-silting of village ponds, staggered trenching, reforestation and bund improvement. These measures contained the rainwater, helping it percolate into the ground. Within two years, the area was assured of water throughout the year.

It was Alavi who started it all. He founded RC in 1977 in Khopoli, in Raigad district. He initiated a 'graduate volunteers scheme', which later evolved into a graduate course in rural development. Later, he started the 'village-level workers' training' programme, affiliated to Mumbai's SNDT University. Students spent five days each month learning theory, and the remainder in community activity.

RC persuaded local Marathas to lease their land to 15 landless families from the impoverished Katkari and Thakur tribes. This was the concept of collective farming. When I visited the area in 2004, there were 30 such groups in these villages. Each group, consisting of two or three families, cultivated rice during the monsoon and vegetables at other times.

I spoke to Yashoda from one such group. Being fluent in Marathi, I chatted with them, and they spoke to me without any inhibitions. Yashoda’s patch of land was glowing with a ripe tomato crop. I cannot describe the sensation of joy and abundance that filled my heart when I saw rows and rows of plants, as far as the eye could see, all swaying with large, ripe, red luscious tomatoes.

As we sat in a rudely erected shed and talked, one of the group members quartered a few large tomatoes, applied a generous sprinkling of salt and served it to us.

Ah, bliss! Hunger and thirst were both slaked the instant I bit into the first quarter. No Coke or Pepsi I have had since has been able to achieve that effect for me.

Yashoda told me that they were able to pick 7-8 tonnes of tomatoes every day. Part of the yield was for self-consumption; the rest was sold in the nearby Pen market.

Bye, bye middle man. Hello, profits commensurate with efforts and hard work.

Yashoda told me that when the experiment began, they suffered losses owing to price fluctuations and their inability to grapple with the transport system. But gradually they mastered the game.

The villagers set up a self-help group and invested part of the money into their own bank which offered loans for start-up enterprises. RC took the self-help group movement further, helping the women to learn skills related to planning, management, accountancy, entrepreneurship, etc. They were also told about micro-savings and credit systems, food processing etc.

RC launched the 'people's biodiversity register' (PBR), which maintained details of more than 300 indigenous plants and animals. The idea was to encourage people to take pride in their biodiversity, to value their way of life, and fight anything that threatened it.

Aware that traditional medicine was dying due to lack of documentation, RC invited traditional vaids to reveal their knowledge of medicinal herbs and other compounds at the local health centre, so that it could be preserved.

It also reserved demarcated 'medicinal plant conservation areas' and worked towards growing a 'forest home garden'. This is an ideal way of living that stipulates that all the resources needed for healthy living and sustainable development should grow around one's house. This includes medicines, building material, spices and foods. Over time, a nearly self-sufficient forest village may be created.

Local villagers were taught to grow spices, mango, brinjal, chawli, tondli, karipatta, banana, papaya, jackfruit, etc. This helped them save more than Rs 20,000 a year. Village youth were trained to make agricultural tools, cane furniture and utility items out of bamboo. Food processing was also taught.

I was only a visitor to that region and much as I longed to stay there for longer, work and family commitments tugged and I had to return to Mumbai. But for a brief while, I got a taste of just how satisfying life could be if we depended on the earth for our needs and if we trimmed our wants accordingly.

I was grateful for this trip to Raigad, for it taught me that the earth provides.

Sufficiently.




(This post is my entry to the Travel That Moved Me Blogging Contest, in support of Rang De, hosted at desitraveler.com)







Wednesday, July 17, 2013

We need you, Pothole Robin Hood (Day 17: Ultimate Blog Challenge)

You’d think potholes were a Third World problem. 

Apparently not. 

Turns out that potholes are the great leveler. We knew India has them. Certainly Mumbai does, too many to count, and now we know the US has them too. 

While most of us only crib and complain about these potholes and about the damage they are doing to our spines and lower backs, and our vehicles too, one gentleman, Ron Chane, from Jackson, Mississippi, USA, decided to stop whining and do something about the pothole-ridden roads in his city. What he did was to steal asphalt from the city and fill the potholes himself. 

Ingenious solution! I wonder why it didn't occur to someone else.

The guy later admitted to stealing the material from the city’s reserves, then using it to fill the potholes. He aimed to fill 100 potholes, and he achieved that aim. His fellow citizens were able to recognise his handiwork from the fact that he had spray-painted a white circle around the potholes that he had filled. He also denoted an arrow with the words, Citizen Fixed.

His actions have earned him national attention, and a grateful citizenry of Jackson, egged on by local newspapers, have started referring to him as Pothole Robin Hood.

The Mayor of Jackson city, Chokwe Lumumba, expressed his approval of what Chane had done but not of the means that he had employed to meet his goal. In his own words, Jackson does not permit “any use of the city’s resources without going through the proper legal channels.”

Now the man is currently under an investigation by the authorities. Chane claims that while the powers-that-be do not condone his behaviour, they are “on the understanding side.”

I am happy for Mr Chane. In my opinion, he has performed a great service. I am so proud of his achievements that I have a suggestion for him. Should the authorities in Jackson start ‘misunderstanding’ him, there is a way in which he can get out of the heat.

I want him to know that on behalf of my fellow citizens here in Mumbai, I would be delighted to offer him amnesty in our pothole-ridden city. God knows we have enough potholes in this city to keep him busy for months. 

According to the pothole-tracking system of BMC [Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation], there are about 8262 potholes in the city of Mumbai. Mind you, these are the ones that people have reported in.

Our officials, quick to play the blame game, have blamed the seasonal monsoon for the state of the roads and the size and depth of the potholes. So if Mr Chane were to show up here, they would even, I’m sure, help with the re-filling material, provided he took the labour issue off their hands. In return, they might offer him large-sized cloth banners, with his mugshot emblazoned on it in full Eastman or Kodak colour, depending on his preferences. The exact amount of the monetary compensation can be worked out later.

The best part about signing up for the job is that he will always be in demand. And as long as he asks for his remuneration in dollar terms, he can make a killing. Look at how the rupee is falling.

Mr Chane should be warned, though. That habit of signing his handiwork like the artist he is, that might not always be possible here. Those Jackson potholes, they're no match for the smallest of ours.

Some of our potholes are so big and deep that a BEST bus could fall into it and find it difficult to get back up. There's no way he could spray paint his autograph around a pothole of that size. He will very likely run out of paint for the job. For that matter, we will very likely run out of asphalt to fill up all the potholes. 

Perhaps while the authorities in Jackson are still in 'understanding' mode, he had better bring some of the asphalt with him.



Dear Mr Chane, if you're reading this, I hope you take it seriously. We need you, Pothole Robin Hood.





 


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Stand Up for Your Book (Day 16: Ultimate Blog Challenge)

When was the last time you looked at a book reader?

Just looked?

I did. 


Yesterday on the way home, I passed Flora Fountain, an area that is a landmark in the Fort area of South Bombay. As I waited for the traffic signal to allow me to cross, I saw a girl standing in the middle of the walkway around the heritage monument. There was a messenger bag lying at her feet, and she was completely engrossed in reading a book.

At first I thought, she was waiting for someone, and reading the book to help pass the time. That’s what I would have done if I had to wait for someone. But then I would have stood quietly beside the iron railing surrounding the monument, and there I would have read, oblivious to the world. Who enjoys being jostled around when you’re trying to read?

Apparently this girl had no such issues. She stood there reading, immune to the stares, the comments, the laughter around her.

And then I saw another girl standing about six feet away from the first girl, and then a guy, standing an equal distance away from the second girl. All in exactly the same pose, both hands holding the book at chest level, both feet touching, each with a book in hand, a different colour and type of bag at the feet.

As far as I could see, they were all reading different books, so it wasn’t a book promotion.

There was no placard or board to explain the significance of this human installation. To help the rest of us understand why these three people had chosen to just stand there and read. If they were trying to make a statement of some sort, shouldn’t they have come out and said it loud and clear?

At one point, I considered walking up to them to ask them what it was all about. And then I remembered that I didn’t enjoy being disturbed while I was reading.



Most people looked, laughed and moved on. Being a reader myself, I stood there for a few seconds longer, and wondered what they were trying to achieve.

Were they trying to encourage the habit of reading?

How long had they been standing and reading?

How long did they plan to stand?

What would happen if it suddenly started raining? Would they run for cover? Or would they continue to read, to show that the habit of reading was proof against any physical discomfort?

I hoped they’d have the good sense to run. Experiments can always be conducted another day. But a wet book doesn’t make for good reading.






Monday, July 15, 2013

The Kindness of a Stranger (Day 15: Ultimate Blog Challenge)

The story I am about to relate took place in the first trimester of my second pregnancy. I was travelling to work one particularly sunny morning. The 39+-km, over one-hour-long commute between Borivali and Churchgate on the Western suburban railway line, harrowing during peak hours, is much worse from the standpoint of a pregnant woman. The fact that I had a seat did not help matters much, squashed as I was between two rather bulky women on either side.

The migraine that was a regular symptom during those days was threatening to split my head apart. And as the train trudged on and the crowds got on, I began to feel more and more uneasy. My head seemed to weigh a ton. Stretching my legs might have provided some respite, but there was no room for that. With two trains having been blithely cancelled by the Railways, without assigning any reason, the train was holding much more than it could.

So I held on, praying desperately that I should be able to reach my destination without throwing up on some unsuspecting fellow-commuter. The way I was feeling right now, head heavy, legs numb, body aching, mouth at once dry and bilious, a disaster seemed imminent.

With each passing moment, things seemed to get worse. I would have liked to get off at the next station in order to get some fresh air, but the door was about six feet away from my seat and I doubt if I would have survived the perilous course. So I sat where I was, feeling physically and mentally miserable, longing to lie down and close my eyes and give in to my exhaustion.

At last, after what seemed like an age, the train pulled into Churchgate station. I waited for the crowd to disperse, and then dragged myself out slowly. I didn't have much energy left and I barely managed to get off the train and settle down slowly on to a bench on the platform. 

I briefly considered calling my office and requesting one of my colleagues to come and pick me up, then gave up the thought. In the condition I was in, I didn't think it made sense to go to work. Better to sit here for a while till I felt better, then take a decision about whether to go to office or hop on to the next train home. Besides, this was only the second month. There would be many such occasions in the next seven months. I had to learn to fend for myself. I could not depend on others for help.

It was an effort to think. So I just sat on the bench, eyes closed. Then as happens, when you feel yourself being stared at by someone, I opened my eyes, and I found a homely looking elderly guy looking at me. I quickly collected myself, sat up straight and gave him my hardest look. I have always been wary of strangers. 

But he wouldn't get the hint. He approached me slowly and asked me if I was ok. I said, yes, thank you, I am perfectly fine. He sat down beside me on the bench and the mercury on my panic-meter shot up higher.

"Don't worry," he said. "I'm not going to hurt you. You look like you are having a headache." He spread out his palms in front of him, and then used his right thumb to press the fleshy portion on his left palm. "Do this," he said, "It will help you feel better."

I let down my guard a little. After all, he was only directing me, not offering me any free massages. I tried to press my palm as he suggested. To no avail. "It doesn't work," I told him.

"Mind if I try?" he asked. A few decent-looking people walked by and said hello to him, before walking away. I let down my guard a little more.

He pressed my palm so hard, I winced with the pain. But before 10 seconds had elapsed, the headache was gone. "What did you do?" I asked, a wide smile on my face.

"It is called acupressure," he told me, this homely looking man that I had suspected of nefarious ends. "I'm a carpenter by profession, but I know a little of acupressure. It is easy, you should learn it too. You never know who you can help."

I was so busy gushing about how effective it had been, I barely remembered to say thanks to him. He told me to take care, and trust in God to watch out for me. He said, little babies were gifts from God, and God could be counted on to look after His own gifts.

And saying that, he disappeared into the sea of people that is Churchgate station during office hours. 

I stood there, looking at the crowd which had swallowed him up. And I realised he was right. God does look after His gifts. No wonder this carpenter had shown up like an angel out of nowhere.


What about you? Have you ever had a kindness done to you by a stranger?





Sunday, July 14, 2013

Open letter to the Telegram (Day 14: Ultimate Blog Challenge)

Dear Telegram/Taar,

Today is your last day. When the clock strikes 9 pm tonight, you will join the ranks of those that have made such a difference in the lives of us middle-class Indians. You've earned your rest.

Where you go, you will probably meet the 25-paise coin. Do convey my warmest regards and affection. You are both stalwarts of an era that India has left far behind. Sometimes I'm not sure if we're really happier today than we were when you were in your prime.


You have little place in an India where everyone, from children to adults, has access to their own talk time. Today, making STD calls is no longer a matter of standing in queue after 10.30 pm, when the tariff would dip to one-third and the queues jump up to more than 10 times. In the old days, I remember Dad telling me, one had to stand in a queue to send out a telegram.

I remember how crisp you were with your words. In those days, a little had to convey so much. You had codes for the general celebrations. There were codes to wish people for Independence Day, Republic Day, for each of the festivals celebrated in this great country, to celebrate births, confer blessings on married couples, wish youngsters on success in examinations, wish people a speedy recovery, wish somebody a happy retired life, to thank people for their wishes and even to reciprocate good wishes. I once heard that couples used you to inform both sets of parents that they had eloped. 

The sight of the telegram postman at the door was enough to fill us with a sense of dread and foreboding. Oh, no, what could have happened? Did old Aunt X succumb to her illness? Or did Uncle Y meet with a horrific accident? He was always one to drive rashly. And then it would turn out to be Cousin Z who had given birth to a bonny baby girl, and of course, Mum and baby were well. And we would all exhale with relief and deign to smile at the telegram man.

Sometimes, in an uneventful year, the whole year would go by without a visit from the telegram man, but he would show up at Diwali and Christmas time. Baksheesh. He would say that one word, and we would know that he had come to claim his dues for the year. Never mind that we hadn't seen him throughout the year.


So much has changed. Earlier it was Morse code that was used, then telex machines came in, only to give way to electronic printers and computers. But the greater change is in the number and variety of the options available for quick communication today. In today's India, the vegetable vendor, college student and the fish monger alike, everyone has a cellphone. Today's generation, swimming amid quick, cheaper and even free options like SMS, emails, What'sApp, Facebook etc haven't even heard of you. Even landline telephone services have become cheaper. 

Other than government channels, few people use you anymore. The cost of sending out a telegram was hiked in May 2011 to Rs 27 per 50 words. But even that was not enough of a carrot for an India where more than 900 million people own mobile phones and 120 million use the Internet. You were in any case doddering on your last legs.

One India still has a use for you, but no one has a use for that India.

For 163 years, you've served this country well. You fulfilled an important purpose. Without you, we would have floundered in a sea of chaos and lack of information.

And now it is time for you to enjoy your well-deserved rest.

Thank you, dear Telegram, for all your services to middle class India.

I hope you enjoy your final run today. And after that, it will be STOP forever.









Saturday, July 13, 2013

The Mystery Of The Appetite That Disappeared (Day 13: Ultimate Blog Challenge)



Wanted! Healthy appetite! Last seen when La Niña was about a year old. If anyone has any information about the whereabouts of the appetite, please let Mamma know immediately.



Most parents would be on the lookout for the elusive appetite, a species of creatures that is quick to take off and disappear on vacation, especially when called to ensure that a child is well-fed.

The appetite displays some strange habits. It will disappear for days on end, then suddenly show up, looking all ravenous and unable to control itself, just when dessert is being served.

Rare is the parent that has not tried hard and eventually tried to tear his/her hair out in frustration at the thought of sneaking some food into the mouth of a child unwilling to eat.

I have tried every trick in the book. In my hands, food zooms through the air, making numerous sorties, and then I suddenly apply the brakes right outside La Niña’s mouth, only to find the door stubbornly barred from the inside. The poor morsel, finding itself unwelcome, has no option but to head back to the base (read: plate). There is no way I can prise her mouth open to force feed her, even if I were to think of that as a feasible option, which I don’t.

For a while, I tried to get creative. On one occasion, I filled a small katori with rice and upturned it into the plate to form the two wheels of the bicycle. Then I made the pedals, handlebars, etc. using slices of tomato, capsicum etc. La Niña was delighted. She polished off her food, and demanded something even more creative at the next meal. I obliged, giving her food the look of a car. For some days, everyone was happy. But it wasn’t a long-term solution.

Being a working woman, I don’t have the time to indulge in such creative pursuits on a daily basis. The experiment fizzled out after a while.

There were times when I found myself bargaining with her. If she had so many spoonfuls (later rephrased to bites) of the vegetable cooked for the day, then I would let her have an extra helping of dessert.

I would try to be firm with her. If she wouldn’t have her meals, I would refuse to give her any other snack that she asked for. Her doting grandparents, however, don’t always favour my firm methods, and sometimes allow her to have such things as banana milkshake at mealtimes. Their goal involves ensuring that she does not go to bed hungry and mine is to ensure that she eats something healthy, something that can provide nutrition and is a worthy part of a balanced diet.

I soon discovered that there were many other parents who faced the same problem. Many told me that this was a problem that some kids faced between the ages of 2½ years to 4 or 5 years, and that the appetite returns by the end of that period.

I console myself with the thought that “this too shall pass.” I remember how I used to give my mother a hard time with regard to eating chapatis. I could never eat them, unless they were accompanied by something sweet.

Now that La Niña is growing up, the battlefield-like pressures at mealtimes have eased somewhat, but she continues to keep me on my toes with her tendency to eat the wrong things at the wrong times and her refusal to eat any vegetables except lady fingers. But we just celebrated her fifth birthday recently, so hopefully things will improve.



Dear Appetite,

If you are reading this, come home soon. All is forgiven.

Love,

Mamma







(This post was written for Parentous, an online community on parenting related issues.)







Friday, July 12, 2013

A Carte de Amour (Day 12: Ultimate Blog Challenge)

“Wish you were here,’ it said, and her hackles were immediately raised. Who could have sent it?

The postcard had a 3D image of two lovers, rushing into each other’s arms. Held at a certain angle, it showed the lovers apart. Tilt it slightly, and they were together.

The handwriting was neat and precise. She imagined what the woman must be like. Very tidy in her ways, no doubt. A place for everything and everything in its place.

The postcard was sent from Prague and dated five days earlier. ‘My darling dollop,’ it said. Was that a salutation of illicit romance?

Old Horace – a dollop?

She shook her head, and read. ‘I long to hold you in my arms. To feel you near me. But that is not to be. Here I am, living the good life with my friends, and there you are, miserable with that old coot. Not for long. I will send you another postcard from Rome.’

Ought she to show Horace the postcard and watch his face for signs of guilt? No, that would never do. Horace would not reveal his emotions. She would glean nothing from his face. She would have to bide her time. Wait for the second postcard to incriminate him further. And then it would be Showtime!

Waiting, however, was no easy task for someone of her sensibilities. Wait for how long?

How much time did it take to reach Rome from Prague? She anxiously scanned the calendar, expecting it to reveal the deceit of the human heart. The calendar, unwilling to have anything to do with such matters, flapped its pages vigorously, intending to convey the action of throwing up its hands.

When Emma had suspected her husband of hanky panky, she had hired a detective to follow him and keep her posted about his whereabouts and activities. But that recourse was not available to her. She could not afford to get professional help.

She sat down to think. Did a postcard necessarily mean that Horace was cheating on her? The woman could be a friend, couldn’t she? Of course, she could be.

But do friends address friends as their darling dollops?

She would have to get to the bottom of this. She owed it to the kids. It was her responsibility to ensure that the relationship remained unaffected by fancy women who referred to other people’s husbands as dollops.

All day she watched him, a wild look in her eyes. At first it was anger. How dare some brazen hussy make eyes at my man? She would fight for her marriage.

But it quickly changed. How dare this faithless creature cheat on me?

One day went by.

She kept an eye out for the arrival of the mailman. The postcard should not fall into the wrong hands. It would make her the laughing stock of the neighbourhood. She wondered if she ought to tell Emma about this. After all, Emma had made no secret about her husband’s fling. She decided against it.

The second day went by. The mailman looked at her quizzically, wondering why the old girl was suddenly watching his movements with such interest.

The third day went by and still no postcard. She controlled herself with an effort. She was angry with the mysterious sender for sending a carte de amour through ordinary mail. On a postcard, of all the things? Just because it could be bought with a 10 pence coin. How cheap! No lover of hers would be that cheap, she felt sure.

When that hussy came, she'd make Horace pay. She'd take the house, the car and the securities in the bank. And she’d get a new lover. In return, the hussy could keep her dollop.

She was quite pleased with herself. In any case, the marriage was over. But the house was good. The car was new. And the securities would spell security for the rest of her life.

It was on the fourth day that the other postcard came.

'Plans changed. I’m not coming. I’ve found someone else. I wish you years of happiness with Gladys.’

She sat down and sobbed.

The mailman looked at her quizzically.







(This post is an entry to the contest on Write Tribe.)






Thursday, July 11, 2013

My Very Own Miracle Baby (Day 11: UBC July 2013)

Today I read a report in one of the newspapers about a landslide in the Antop Hill area of Mumbai, and of a little 13-day-old who is being described as a miracle baby. Apparently the baby and his mother were at home when the roof collapsed over their little shanty. There was no avenue of escape.

Fearing for the safety of her little one, the mother appealed with all the strength of her faith to her favourite deity. The baby’s cries were heard by a neighbor who, together with some others, saved the family.

I love to read about stories in which children escape unhurt, stories in which there are happy endings in store for little children. They reaffirm my belief in prayer and how God answers it always.

I have one such story to report from my own experience.

This happened in the seventh month of my first pregnancy. I had been determined to go to work right up to the last day to ensure that all my maternity leave, every single day of the 120 days that I was entitled to, could be utilised for the care and well-being of my little baby.

It so happened that the main road closest to my home was dug up around that time for re-paving purposes. The road had been dug more than a month prior to that day, and yet there was no activity forthcoming with respect to the work of re-paving it. Such is the state of activity that characterises the work culture of our city fathers.

The vehicular traffic had been diverted to another side road. And the only people who continued to use the road were hapless and frustrated pedestrians like me, who trudged over the dug out mounds in an attempt to reach the nearest usable road from where they could avail of public transport or hail an autorickshaw or cab.

That morning, I too was trying to traverse this treacherous piece of broken road. I was already late, and it is possible that in my haste, I may not have been as careful about looking at the ground beneath my feet as I should have been. In my defence, I must say that considering I was in my seventh month with my tummy so large that random people felt comfortable about enquiring if I was carrying twins, I could barely see my own feet, let alone the ground beneath them. 


One of the paver blocks on the road must have been loose and I tripped over it.

And fell flat on my belly.



I just took all of five seconds to type that line.

But the actual falling took much longer. At least, it seemed so to me.

It seemed as if I were falling in slow motion.

The way the leading man and the leading lady often used to come running towards each other in the Bollywood films of the seventies and eighties. The slow motion device, as it is used then, is meant to prolong the excitement as the two lovers rush towards each other for a full-on embrace.

But my rushing to meet Mother Earth had in it strains of fear, anxiety and alarm, as I flailed wildly, trying to grasp thin air in a vain attempt to arrest my fall.

In my desperation, my faith came to my rescue.

Jesus, I screamed, as I always do, whenever I am in fear or pain. 






/There was no one around to hear me. No other fellow pedestrian on that long temporarily-out-of-use road.

There I lay, flat on my belly. My eyes welled with tears. I was so afraid for my baby. What would happen? Would I lose her? Had I hurt her? What a negligent mother I had shown myself to be, even before my baby was born.

I lay there on the road for two or three minutes. I could not get up.

And then I saw a lady on the other side of the road.

She took her own sweet time crossing the road and coming to me, and for a brief second, I wondered if she was daft, if she thought I was one of those circus creatures trying to balance themselves on a large ball.

That is when I realised that one of her feet was bandaged and she was limping.

After what seemed like an age, she hobbled over to me and helped me up.

She walked home with me. It turned out that she lived in another building in my complex.



Understandably, the Husband’s parents went into panic mode.

Strangely, I was feeling rather calm.

We rushed to the hospital, where the doctor made me undergo an emergency sonography.

Thankfully, all was well with the baby.

Today La Niña is a healthy, intelligent and adorable five-year-old girl.



Medical literature often talks of how the amniotic sac cushions the baby well, and that in all likelihood a baby does not feel its pregnant mother's fall at all.



I like to think my faith and the Name that escaped my lips saved my child.

La Niña is my very own miracle baby.







Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Things worth celebrating (Day 10: UBC July 2013)

It was author Jarod Kintz who said, “The year you were born marks only your entry into the world. Other years where you prove your worth, they are the ones worth celebrating.”

In theory, I accept the validity of his statement. I agree that the mere fact of one’s birth or existence does not deserve to have trumpet blasts piercing the night. 


/In practice, I’m a great one for celebrating birthdays. I come from a family in which a birthday was treated as a very special thing. On your birthday, you were treated like a king or a queen. And you didn’t even have to be a young ’un to merit this special treatment, though it helped, especially since it was the elders in the family doing the pampering.

Generally, my parents made a big to-do about birthdays. The entire family would go to church in the morning to pray for the birthday boy or girl. Later, Mum would cook the favourites of the birthday boy or girl, bake a cake and we’d all gather around and sing Happy Birthday.

For some strange reason, even though I’ve got a pretty good singing voice (so I’ve been told) and even though I can sing Happy Birthday very melodiously if I’m singing by myself, I’m not very good at singing Happy Birthday in a crowd. I don’t know why my singing suddenly begins to sound off-key, when I'm singing Happy Birthday with a group of other people. Must be all the noise getting into my eyes.

I’ve inherited that feeling of goodwill towards birthdays. Now that I’m a mother of two, I make it a point to bake a cake or make some dessert, with a new, untried recipe each time a family birthday shows up.

Christmas and Easter, and Diwali in my marital home, are other occasions that merit large-scale, though not necessarily lavish, celebrations. Mass at church and a meal with the entire family in attendance was a 
huge part of the celebrations.

One other occasion that merits more than the usual degree of celebrations is August 15. It happens to be India’s Independence Day. For Catholics, it is the solemn feast of the Assumption of Our Lady. And for us, as kids, what got our cup overflowing, what put the icing on the cake and the star in the sky, was the fact that it was also Mum’s birthday. After I got married, I learned that it is also my mother-in-law’s birthday.

While events such as these are worth celebrating, what I’d most like to talk about here are those tiny little things that show up without notice or warning, and demand a celebration.

I have only to announce that I have found a new recipe for cake, and that I am going to try it the following Saturday for La Niña and El Niño to break into an impromptu jig. I join them on the floor, and clown around with them and we all burst out laughing.

My children see with eyes that are new, and it is their gaze that tells me that nature is flush with a thousand dazzling things that are worth celebrating.

And of course, not all celebrations have to be about loud music, lively conversations and outbursts of laughter.

There are many things worth celebrating that can be celebrated just as well with silence, contentment and a grateful heart.




(This post is written in response to a writing prompt on The Writer's Post.)


Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Defining a Khaane wali cheez (Day 9: UBC July 2013)

The Kurkure Tedha hai par mera hai ad campaign has recently released a new ad, one that I take strict objection to. You must have seen it.

It shows a man (Kunal Kapoor) sitting with a noticeably spurious looking packet of chips, with the words, Rs 5, but no brand name, emblazoned on the pack. When his wife (Parineeti Chopra) asks him what he is eating, he indicates with a shrug that it is not worth talking about. She then offers him a phone, saying the signal is weak, but the phone itself will be crunchy. The sister-in-law offers him some wheat grass, adding that it is very fresh. He asks them if it is a khanewali cheez (read: something worth eating). The wife reiterates that if he is spending Rs 5, it had better be on a khanewali cheez. She proceeds to offer him a Rs 5-priced packet of Kurkure. He pulls the first chip out, and is completely blown away, energized at the sheer goodness of Kurkure compared to the supposedly non-edible non-branded packet of chips he was earlier eating.

There are some subliminal messages being spread here. An attempt is being made to sneak in chips, correction Kurkure, into the food pyramid, to imbue an empty calorie-filled snack with connotations of health and goodness.

Had they tried to extol the virtues of Kurkure in the fun department, had they tried to make it look like a great thing to take along on a picnic or a day at the beach, I would have had no objection, provided the khanewalas (eaters) in question remembered to dispose of the empty pack in the nearest bin. But this is going too far.

Everyone knows how highly addictive chips are. A rival brand even has the well-known tagline, No one can eat just one.

Given the fact that they are so addictive and unhealthy to boot, I find the new campaign very disturbing indeed. Because what the company is trying to do is to get consumers to shed whatever guilt, if at all, they feel about eating these chips. In describing chips as khanewali cheez, the company is trying to, in a way, legitimise the consumption of chips, and make us, as conscientious parents, feel good about buying them and giving them to our kids and eating them ourselves.

According to them, not only is Kurkure a khanewali cheez, it is also, in a world of soaring prices and rising inflation, available for only Rs 5, making it affordable and accessible.

These are disturbing trends, given the fact that children as young as 8 and 10 years old are now suffering from cholesterol and obesity issues. Not only are we encouraging an unhealthy lifestyle upon our kids, who are in any case not expending too much energy on the playground (what playground?), we are also exposing them to an unhealthy future. 
Better let them know now that the packet of chips, whether Kurkure or Lays or any of the other brands, are not khanewali cheez.

Far from it.








(This post was written for Parentous, an online community for parenting-related issues.)











Monday, July 08, 2013

Book Review: THE MALTHUS CONSPIRACY (Day 8: UBC July 2013)

Title: The Malthus Conspiracy
Author: Danielle Uidam
Publisher: Indie author
Pages: 411








The Malthus Conspiracy by Danielle Uidam is gripping right from the Prologue.

The story begins in Surrey, England, in 1798, with the Rev Thomas Robert Malthus presenting his paper, An Essay on the Principle of Population to the Economic Society. The paper creates a furore.

The story then moves to the University of Virginia, USA, in 2012, where Dean and Felix, two undergraduate students at the University, are given an assignment at college, namely, to discuss the impact that natural and manmade disasters have had on the world’s population in the light of Malthus’ theory. The two decide to write on the impact of disease control like vaccines on population. 

Their research leads them to Matthew Tersin, a researcher who developed the first anti-influenza serum and later went on to research the causes of the disease with a view to preventing it from breaking out. They discover that Tersin, who should have been hailed as a hero, killed himself. Further research indicates that Shutlam, a top medical research facility, took over the research but did not pursue it. Felix hacks into the facility’s server but finds little information on Tersin. Later his laptop’s IP address is traced, his room ransacked and his laptop and papers stolen.

The chapters flit alternately between England and later Europe in previous centuries to the University of Virginia in 2012. And so we learn of the establishment of the Malthusian League for the purpose of tackling the population problem aggressively, and the steady expansion of the organisation. The plan is to unleash war and disease so that the poor and the dispossessed can be eliminated. Real-life events like the World wars, the Holocaust and the assassinations of heads of state are all seen here to be the handiwork of the Malthusian League.

By now, Felix and Dean are both determined to unravel the conspiracy of who is the modern-day equivalent of the Malthusian League. They meet the grandson of Dr Tersin for answers. Unfortunately, the grandson is murdered, and detective Isabella Mercena deputed to investigate the murder.

The novel ends with numerous addenda on the history of the Spanish Flu, statistics related to population growth and density, and population issues relevant today.

The story deftly moves back and forth between the two centuries, unraveling the puzzle bit by bit. The section in which Detective Crey is confronted and chased by the hired killer is excellently written. Uidam succeeds in communicating the strain felt by Crey as he finds himself making mistake after mistake in a desperate attempt to escape the hired killer.

There is a constant sense of rushing along with the characters. The short chapters enable the swift and heady pace. And the tempo manages to sweep the reader along, making the action almost seem like real time. Uidam does a fantastic job of drawing the net closer around the three leads.

When I read about the newer strains of once conquered diseases that are showing up with a vengeance, I am not so sure about whether The Malthus Conspiracy is a work of fiction. It just seems so real.

Uidam deserves bonus points for the delineation of the characters. The madcap Felix, who never loses his sense of humour in the most dangerous of situations, Dean, the more studious of the two, Isabella, the tough cop who finds herself having to outrun the law, and Ralph Scalary, the reclusive genius. The dialogue always remains true to the character.

The non-traditional older woman and younger man pairing is a welcome break from societal traditions in which the man is always the protector and the woman the protected. Here it is a pleasant change to see a woman take charge and get out of dangerous scrapes thanks to her intellect and superior training, rather than having to wait for the hero to come and rescue her.

There is enough action and plenty of twists and turns to keep you hooked. Uidam has the happy knack of ending her chapters on just the right note, ensuring that her readers are at the edge of their seats, with their hearts in their mouths, unwilling to keep from turning the page to see just what happens next.


PS. Hollywood, you might consider getting in touch with Danielle Uidam. Here is a conspiracy theory that would make fantastic viewing.







Sunday, July 07, 2013

Lost Treasure - a drabble (Day 7: UBC July 2013)

This was it.

The map led here.

Here lay the lost treasure that crazed men had journeyed far to get. The treasure for which men had suffered privations of all kinds.

I had cheated death five times and lost everything of value.

For this.

Now it was mine.

The entrance to the cave was covered by brambles. Sheer luck that I found the mouth of the cave.

It was dark, but my torch illuminated the cave.

I dug, where the coordinates on the detailed map led me.

Nothing.

No wonder they called it lost treasure.

Apparently it really was lost. 


(This post is in response to a writing prompt on Write Tribe. This is my first attempt at writing a drabble, a short story of exactly 100 words.)







Saturday, July 06, 2013

A Different Umwelt (Day 6: UBC July 2013)

“You must be Vernon Bates. Unmistakable resemblance! Are you and Norman fraternal twins?” The detective shook hands with the tall stranger and noted the warmth in his handshake. Norman had a clammy hand.

“No, we are identical twins. Other than our parents, no one could tell us apart. I am surprised to see how differently we have aged, and how unalike we have become. I guess I’ve had an easier life than him,” Vernon replied.

They were standing outside Norman’s prison cell, Vernon, the detective and the psychologist, watching closely. A guard walked in and offered Norman a blanket which he accepted and tucked around himself as fastidiously as a woman might have.

“How long since you last met?” the detective asked.

“I last saw Norman on our twelfth birthdays. That day Mother and Father had their first full-blown row. It made all their previous quarrels pale into nothing. Norman and I hid in the kitchen and listened. Mother raked up all the filth she could, and made a few allegations so shocking they must have turned the neighbours’ ears red. They weren’t all true, but they were colourful and explicit and they stuck.

“Father said nothing. He only dragged me by the hand and stepped out of the house, never to return. Back then, I had thought he’d just found my hiding place first. That he acted on an impulse. But then I realized that his clothes and mine were already packed into a neat little case, so I guess he must have been prepared for it. Besides I was always Mother’s favourite and Father must have tried to really hurt her, with his parting shot.”

The psychologist raised an eyebrow. “Then it could just as easily have been you in that big, rambling manor, alone and helpless and completely dominated by an overbearing mother?”

There was a pained look on Vernon’s face. “Yes, it could have been,” he said.

The detective frowned. “Why did you never bother to get in touch with your brother? You used to be inseparable, until your parents’ differences forced you apart.”

Vernon smiled sadly. “I did return. One stormy evening about seven years ago, I came by to the house. I had an insane desire to see Mother and Norman. I wanted to see how much our parting had affected her. Had it drawn deep lines of sorrow on her face? I wanted to see her expression when she first saw me. I wanted to know whether the thought of me drove her to distraction.

“I had promised Father I would never get in touch with Mother. Ever. I kept my promise. I often wondered what had transpired between them to make him loathe her so. He never told me. Not even on his deathbed. But by then I considered myself released from the promise and set out towards Bates Motel.

“When I got here, I crept slowly towards the house, wondering whether to ring the doorbell. I badly wanted to see Mother. But something of Father’s misgivings must have rubbed off on me. I crept by the bushes outside her parlour and listened.

“She was abusing him. I gathered that he had begun to fancy some girl and that she didn’t approve one bit. She nagged him. She found fault with the way he spoke, walked, talked, dressed, ate, slept. Everything. She abused the girl too, and all he did was listen. My nerves were taut, strained from listening to that barrage against somebody who had been my loyal playmate for 12 years. A man who had my face. I couldn’t stand it anymore. I turned around and ran towards my car. It occurred to me then that even though Norman had no idea whether I was dead or alive, he must have wished himself in my shoes.”

“If your brother thought of you,” the detective said, “he never mentioned it. Except for the old-timers, no one even knew that Norman had a twin.”

“I wonder now,” Vernon went on, lost in his own thoughts. “Did I drive him to it? It was me she always favoured. Did I force upon him the fate that should have been mine?”

“All this is idle speculation, Mr Bates, and serves no purpose,” the detective said. “We are concerned with crime and its perpetrators.”

The psychologist chose to answer the questions. “Perhaps. And perhaps not,” he said. “You have a very different Umwelt.”

“I beg your pardon.”

“The Umwelt,” said the psychologist, “comprises the many incidences and occurrences in the environment that can affect the behaviour of a person or animal. To describe it loosely, it would mean the external stimuli surrounding us which, when it reacts with a certain kind of person, elicits a certain kind of reaction or behaviour. The same stimuli could touch another person differently.”

A tiny hope lit up Vernon’s face. “Are you trying to say that if it had been my brother that was taken and I that was left behind, these tragedies might not have come to pass?”

“I didn’t say that. Perhaps. And perhaps not. The Umwelt is a product of external stimuli as it touches your mind. The mind interprets the environment for us. The same environment may touch two people, but the reactions of each will depend on his past experiences, his thought processes, his values and mental makeup. Had you been in place of your brother, Mr Bates, you would have faced the unfortunate circumstances that have been his lot. But would you have lost hold of yourself and killed a fellow human being? That is something only God can answer.”

All three pairs of eyes drifted towards the tall figure, dressed in the clothes of the petite mother he had killed. Straining under the weight of the collective gaze, the creature that was once Norman turned to look at them.

Expressionless.

Vernon exhaled loudly.

“You had better leave now. Thank you,” the detective said to Vernon. “There’s nothing you can do for him.”





(This short story was written for the Umwelt competition, organised by 1hw.)


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